Making it Count: Real-World Math Problems
A student may walk into algebra class day in and day out, wondering, “When are we ever going to use this stuff?” It’s a question asked in classrooms of all types across the country but is perhaps most pertinent when it comes to math. Luckily, real-world math problems provide a powerful answer to that frequently asked question.
Real-world math problems can be found in every grade level and content area of mathematics, from kindergarten through calculus. Ask your students, are you planning a birthday party? You may need addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to figure out the costs associated with that party. When dining at a restaurant, how much of a tip do we leave? We need to use percentages to find out. For older students, you can have them map weather patterns using the cosine function or use ratios and proportions to design a room or home.
Math problems are everywhere in our curriculum, and they come up often in everyday life. We just need to bring them to the attention of our students so we can answer the famous question, “When are we ever going to use this stuff?”
Examples of Real-World Math Problems
Chefs work with equal parts creativity and measured logic. There is plenty of math in baking and cooking, such as measuring ingredients, controlling temperature, and calculating portions.
Share one of your favorite recipes with your students or have students bring in one of their own. Now, imagine the recipe you are using won’t feed all your guests, or perhaps it would feed too many. How can we use ratios and proportions to find the correct amount of ingredients we will use for this dish?
Musicians from Beethoven to Cardi B use math to create rhythm and tempo, measure patterns, and to harmonize. Whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes — there is math in every song you hear, play, or sing.
Students can discuss the size of fractions and compare fractions with different denominators. You can even have some students from the school band create a performance piece based on the fractions that you are learning in class. Older students can count the beats per minute of a song and create graphs based on the beats-per-minute.
ideas on teaching math through music, check out the video below.
At some point, every student will need to manage money, whether they are counting their allowance or saving up for their first car.
A great activity for elementary school students would be to set up a school store. Students take turns as the cashier while the rest of the class buys small trinkets or toys from the store. Teach your students of varying ages how to calculate the best deals using Black Friday ads. Students in middle and high school can enhance their ratio and proportion skills by converting U.S. dollars to other currencies. Or you can implement the classic assignment of creating a budget based on a fictitious career and salary.
Add Relevance to
When students make connections from what they learn in math class to their every day life, they become more engaged in their learning, and it becomes easier to understand and remember lessons.
For a more in-depth look at real-world math problems, Advancement Courses offers a dedicated course, Adding Relevance to Mathematics. Our course focuses on practical methods for using relevant math concepts, theory, and practice to spur students’ excitement for and engagement with mathematics. By examining current research and practice, you will learn to develop lessons that students will both love and remember.
By the end of the course, you will be able to integrate researched-based techniques to guide mathematical inquiry in a manner that motivates and excites students, supports math comprehension, and creates a lifelong interest in math.
Interested in learning more? Advancement course offer K-12 educators over 200 online, self-paced professional development courses covering both foundational topics and emerging trends. There are several professional development courses to enhance your skills and help with re-certification.
About the Author
Nicole Ealey is a K-12 certified tenures mathematics teacher with more than 12 years of teaching experience. She earned her M.Ed. in Teaching Children Mathematics and B.S. in Mathematics from William Paterson University. During her time as a teacher, Nicole has taught diverse groups of students, worked with IEP students and gifted students, and applied for and been awarded grants for her work with incorporating games into the mathematics classroom. Nicole created and teaches a STEM elective, Architecture, in which her students utilize technology and problem-based learning. In her time away from school, Nicole enjoys sailing on the Barnegat Bay and hiking with her husband and her dog Finn, an Irish Doodle.